Monday, June 29, 2009

What could have been....Confederation Cup finals

Ahhh, what might have, could have, maybe should have been....for 45 minutes it appears as if the US might pull off another huge upset and knock off the Samba Boys to capture their first "major" international tourney. However in the end the class of Brazil showed itself too mighty for the unbridled enthusiasm of the Americans. A couple of thoughts:

The Good:
  • Clint Dempsey was solid through out the entire tourney, but showed how dangerous he can be when given the smallest of chances. The first goal of the game was really a simple redirect of a long distance shot from Spector, but Deuce demonstrated what makes him dangerous, he fought to get himself in a dangerous position and capitalized. The same thing he did scoring the US' second goal against Spain when he was opportunistic when Ramos botched a clearance and was able to guide in the ball for the sealing goal. While I am not ready to proclaim Dempsey as some one that might become one of the world's best, he is and will continue to develop in a solid international player.
  • Fabiano....speaking of being in the right place at the right time as well as being lucky...the Sevilla striker showed his class the entire tournament but more specifically the second half of the finals. The first goal he scored he showed his ability but getting position on DeMerit and execting a deadly turn and volley, easier said than done, but he should have never been allowed to establish that position. The second goal was the true sign of a "fox in the box" type striker, after a missed shot by Kaka, the Brazilian #9 was prowling the box to latch onto the rebound to head home his second. His stock in Europe just went up...wonder if SAF will sniff around since he is flush with cash!
  • Another American player that should leave head high is Tim Howard. As I stated in a previous post, only way the US had a chance was for their keeper to have an A+ game. While giving up 3 goals might not warrant such a grade I will at least give him an A-. He can hardly be blamed for any of the three goals, the last one especially when Lucio was inexplicably allowed to attack the corner kick, watching the replay there was not a single US defender there to attempt to defend him! Were the Americans being coached by the Domenech method of defending set pieces??? Ugh.
The Bad:
  • Ok I know I like to picking on this player....but LandyCakes I am going to call bad...why? Yes I realize he scored. But what happened to him in the second half???? If he is suppose to be a world class player, if he is suppose to be the face of US soccer, if he suppose to be the American star.....then he needs to step it up when it most counts! His goal was very nice, granted, a great example of how to play counter attacking footie. But what happened when the team came back from the locker rooms? He all but disappeared. Granted the US was a bit back on their heels after the quick strike, but that is exactly when your stars are suppose to step up. I do not recall seeing Donovan back tracking to collect the ball, calling for long clearances or pressuring Brazil in their half. I never felt he was dangerous after scoring the second goal.
  • Bradley taking off Altidore. I realize that the youngster had been taken off around the 60 minute mark in prior matches, but this is the finals. At the time the Brazilians had just drawn level, so you need to keep your offensive threat out there! Altidore is the only American striker with the size, pace and skill to truly threaten a defense on the break. Maybe Landycakes should have been the one substituted for!
The Ugly:
  • US defending set pieces....ugh, for a while I thought I was watching Arsenal or a Domenech led team. How can you allow an opposing player get a free run at a corner kick, especially in the last 5 minutes of the game???? Inexcusable.
  • Brazil's start. It was clear that the Samba Boys thought the very sight of their yellow kit would give them the victory. Unlike Spain, they were able to overcome this poor approach.
  • Bradley, okay this might be harsh, but I think the substitutions were poor....see Altidore... I think the intensity coming out of the locker room was terrible. The US started the game strong showing no fear, but seemed to come out for the second half...with a 2-0 lead and did not look ready, did not look prepared for what they knew would be a Brazilian attack. The most important times are the first and last 5 minutes of a half, Bradley needed to ensure his team came out with the same level of intensity as it had left the field! The one thing that the US could not afford to allow happen...they did, an early goal in the second half. Yes the players shoulder some responsibility but that is up to the coach to remind each player upon leaving the warmth of the changing room.
  • The commentating on ESPN...ugh no surprise, but listening to the pundits talk about how US soccer is no longer the laughing stock of the world and how great this was made me sick...not sure what these talking heads have been watching but clearly international soccer is very different than it once was. While the big nations still dominate the collecting of silverware, clearly the smaller or less footie savvy nations are no longer the push overs they once were. Ask Argentina that lost to Ecuador, or I recall the defending WC champs, France barely beating Andorra in 1999 qualifiers for the Euros, or Greece winning the Euros 5 years ago, and the list goes on. The International footie scene is one where minnows can sometimes eat a shark. So let us not try to make a story out of an old complaint about American soccer not getting any respect. Players like Dempsey and Howard play in the Premiership, and outside of Landycakes, most of the team has aspirations to play overseas. Least we forget, this is the same hype machine that proclaimed Freddie Adu was going to be greater than Pele...btw did he get any minutes?
Overall this was a very entertaining tourney (the 3rd place game was great as well!), but let us not put too much stock in the results. Brazil, Spain, US, South Africa, and Italy will all most likely be there next year, but if any of these teams face one another then, the stakes will be much higher.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Brazil vs USA....who would have seen this final??

So the US will face Brazil tomorrow for the Confed Cup champions, who would have ever expected these two teams to face one another in the finals? The US has found itself on cloud 9 for the past 2 games - after being left for dead after being trounced the opening games against Italy and Brazil they did the necessary versus Egypt and received help from Brazil to move on to the semis. Where we all know they posted one of the biggest upsets in international footie beating the FIFA #1 team - Espana. But now they face Brazil, in a final, and regardless of the world rankings it is Brazil.

The US has only beaten the SambaBoyz once, over 10 years ago during the Gold Cup semi finals. Earlier in the Confed Cup they were outclassed by Brazil losing 3-0. The US will also be without key midfielder Bradley. So does Sam's Army have a shot?



Surprisingly I am going to say yes, and I am one of the hardest critics on US footie. However, the US seems to not fear the Brazilians (granted the series would dictate otherwise) they played them tough years ago during the World Cup in the US. They have played Brazil tough in the other matches during past Confed Cups as well. Also, the US is on a roll, realizes they are heavy underdogs, and should be the fan favorites. The US will have to play a similar style as to the one against Spain - back 4 needs to defend in unison, midfield needs to be highly active closing down Kaka and Robinho, the stikers will need to take chances on the counter and Howard will need to be solid as a back stop. Oh one more thing, Brazil needs to take the US for granted, much like Espana did for the first half of the game...and it would be nice if the US could score an early goal. Will all this happen? Can it happen? Maybe.

Here is what I see unfolding - Brazil will come out fast and furious, the US will stem the tide and Howard will make some big saves. Dempsey will find a way to score on the counter. Brazil will equalize midway in the second half. The game will go to extra time where the US will defend like a the Alamo and we will end up in PKs....where Howard will make some big saves to give the US an improbable Confed Title. This will unleash a deluge of American pundits predicting the US will do the same next year during the real tourney....ok this might be fantasy. But more fun to predict an improbable US win than another Brazil victory (which is really more likely to happen...how is that for covering all my bases)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

US v Spain....more thoughts

Ok I was able to watch the game, since it was an "instant classic" on ESPN. Clearly the US brought their A game, yes Torres and Villa made some poor judgments on certain occasions, Howard was solid and made a few big saves, Casillas was unlucky on the first goal (granted Altidore abused his marker to turn on him and get the shot off), Ramos should get the second goal (he just teed it up for Dempsey), but in the end when you score such an upset you need to be a bit lucky. However, I think the US deserved this win, they played well as a unit, did not allow the fancy Spanish passing to get to them, shut down Xavi and did not allow Fabergas to do much in the midfield. They frustrated Torres and Villa enough to make them waste the opportunities they had.

Congrats to Bradley and his team. However let us not forget, it is 2009, much will change over the next year so I am not ready to proclaim the US as a team that will go deep in next year's World Cup. But for today, hats off to them, they deserve the accolades.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

SHOCKER!!!

Wow the US defeats Espana 2-0...I wonder if my friend Jose is doing ok. Unfortunately I was not able to watch the game, being employed will do that to you. However from the game cast it would appear the US did exactly what I said they needed to - defend tight the first 20 minutes, rely on Howard to play an outstanding game, hope Spain was lackluster and look to get the opportunistic goal(s). Based on the 29 - 9 shot difference, clearly Howard played a superb match. The fact Spain had so few of those 29 shots in the first half attests to their not taking the match as serious as they should have as well as the Americans having the right defensive game plan to counter the Spaniards.

I would argue this is the second biggest win for the US, the first being their defeat of Mexico in the 2002 World Cup that propelled them into the 1/4 finals. After being trounced the first two matches, Bradley's men have gone out and shown their mettle. They are guaranteed a final of an international tournament, and that is nothing to sneeze at based on where US soccer was a decade ago.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Confed Cup - Brazil roll, Italy disappoints, and the US gets a life line

So another international tournament and once again Brazil shows why you can never count out the magicians from South America out of any football competition. Brazil waltzed into the semi finals with a surprising demolition of Italy. Brazil seemed to have some rustiness the first game, finding themselves in a surprising close match versus Egypt but they proceeded to defeat the US and Italy easily 3-0 both games. Heading into the semi finals against South Africa, I do not foresee the sambaboys having much difficult with the hosts, which should set up a mouth watering - Spain v Brazil finals.

Of course Italy should be the ones facing the Spaniards on Wednesday, however after a devastating loss against the Egyptians: 1-0. The Azzurri found themselves mathematically threatened by a team they had handled in the first round, the US. Of course the impossible happened, the US won by 3 goals and Italy lost by the same margin! The Azzurri cannot see this dry run in South Africa as anything short of disappointing. Aside from Rossi, the Italians showed me very little, they seemed flat and uninterested. Granted this tourney is nothing more than a glorified set of friendlies, however being soundly defeated by Brazil twice this calendar year does not bode well for the Italians. Italy is in a good position for qualification, so this set back should not be a prelude to a greater malaise with the Italians, but it will raise the heat on Lippi as he heads into the World Cup as defending champion. It is already rumored that he will be pressured into rethinking some of his selections, he did go to South Africa with the oldest team of the tournament, relying heavily on players that allowed him to be victorious in Berlin 2006. Have the Italians, and more importantly they manager, fallen victim as so many former champions have to holding on to the old guard one tournament too far?? See France in 2002 World Cup, rather than purging some veterans, Les Bleus went into that tournament with a world of talent, but also some aged legs that were never able to recover, crashing out without scoring a single goal! Lippi will have to decide if he wants to head back to South Africa with the likes of Pirlo, Cannavaro, and Gattuso as the spine of his side. There is still time, however Italy will have to make sure they can discover the proper combination of players otherwise they will struggle to defend their title this time next year.

Finally, the US...they were one team I called out as needing to show something in this tournament. For once I will agree with Alexi Lalas' comments over the weekend, this is really the best showcase for the US, the Gold Cup they will not face this level of competition nor will they see this remainder of qualification. Now it can be argued the US backed into the semis...but I would also say that scoring 3 goals when that is exactly what they needed to do, against a solid Egyptian team (who also were looking for the victory since they had a better chance to go through as the game started) is a good glimmer of hope. Also, the US did play the Italians very close and were unlucky to have a player thrown out. Of course now the US play the Spanish, which will be a stern test. Could the US surprise the Spanish? Maybe. Spain might be looking ahead to their potential match up against Brazil, and get ambushed by the US. However I doubt it, Spain has been methodical and clinical in their matches recently. In addition, the Spanish are boasting the strongest midfield in the world currently as well as one of the world's deadliest snipers - Torres.



If the US can weather the first 15 - 20 minutes, defend as a block - keep the Spanish in front of you allow them to pass the ball around but do not get drawn high up the pitch allowing the Spanish midfield to dissect you with diagonal passes, overlaps and mazy dribbles. Also a lot will be asked of Tim Howard, he will need to have his A+ game for the US to have a fighting chance. Of course, the US have nothing to lose, they need to focus on the fact they have 2 more games to play and see what they can do against the defending European Champs. I think the game will be much closer than otherwise thought.

Spain 2 - US 1: Torres 1, Villa 1 for Spain. Bradly 1 for US.
Brazil 4 - South Africa 1

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Confederations Cup...the mini World Cup

Ok so maybe I am overstating the importance of this competition, but hey we have little footie during the summer months and this could have some interesting match ups. I do think there are some teams that will have much to prove in South Africa. First here are the groups and schedule of matches:

MatchDate - TimeVenue

Results

114/06 16:00Johannesburg South AfricaSouth Africa-IraqIraq
214/06 20:30Rustenburg New ZealandNew Zealand-SpainSpain
517/06 16:00Mangaung/Bloemfontein SpainSpain-IraqIraq
617/06 20:30Rustenburg South AfricaSouth Africa-New ZealandNew Zealand
920/06 20:30Johannesburg IraqIraq-New ZealandNew Zealand
1020/06 20:30Mangaung/Bloemfontein SpainSpain-South AfricaSouth Africa
Group B
MatchDate - TimeVenue

Results

315/06 16:00Mangaung/Bloemfontein BrazilBrazil-EgyptEgypt
415/06 20:30Tshwane/Pretoria USAUSA-ItalyItaly
718/06 16:00Tshwane/Pretoria USAUSA-BrazilBrazil
818/06 20:30Johannesburg EgyptEgypt-ItalyItaly
1121/06 20:30Tshwane/Pretoria ItalyItaly-BrazilBrazil
1221/06 20:30Rustenburg EgyptEgypt-USAUSA
The first two teams of each group move on to meet in the semis and then finals...straight forward. At first glance it would appear that Spain should easily win their group, and you would thing Brazil and Italy would emerge from the "group of death." Question is, will South Africa take second spot in their group? I do think there are 3 teams that have a lot to prove in this tournament. However, let us look at all 8 teams:

Group A:

South Africa - One of the teams that has much to prove. They have not qualified for the next African Nations cup...oops. Not exactly a footballing power, at least when South Korea hosted they had a long run of success in their region, which cannot be said about the South Africans. They must show that they can compete, if they do not get through to round 2, it will be an abject failure. The draw is good for them: the first game will be more challenging that most might imagine, Iraq is a decent side, while they are already out for next year's World Cup, they will want to shine on the pseudo - big stage. However, home field and being the opening game will favor the hosts. South Africa should get the full 3 against the "All Whites" of New Zealand (were it rugby it would be a GREAT match). By the time the Spain tie comes around both sides should be through and it will just be a match for 1st and 2nd place.

Iraq - Like previously mentioned out of the World Cup already. All hinges on game 1, if they can some how defeat the hosts, they could pull off the upset...doubt they get anything off Spain, but have the Kiwis to end group play. One cannot discount the influence Milutinovic can have on a nation. Iraq being the 265th nation he has managed, but the Serbian always gets the most out his side. I think he will see this as a building block for his team...could cause some surprises.

New Zealand - Sigh, they will be the whipping boys of this group. The All Whites have played in 2 other Confederation Cups and won no games...if they can get 1 draw from this group they should be satisfied. Let us face it, Australia left Oceania for a reason.

Spain - During last year's Euros they put it all together...finally....in a major tournament. Xavi, Iniesta, Torres, Cesc, Villa....and the list goes on. With Barca winning the Champions League, Spain is clearly the center of the footballing world. They should easily emerge from this group in first place. The opening match against New Zealand, might get ugly. I could see a 6-0 or 8-0 pasting, maybe New Zealand should offer to play another match, this time pitting each nation's rugby team to get some pay back! Spain will be looking towards the semis where they should face either Italy or Brazil.


Group A - Spain, South Africa, Iraq, New Zealand

Group B


Brazil - Ah they are back again...defending champs. They had a shaky start to qualifying but have since righted the ship. With players such as Kaka, Alves, and Robinho available there will be no shortage of talent for the South American giant. The one player I think might emerge as the one with the biggest impact might be Pato. The young Milan player should be given the opportunity to shine during the tournament, allowing the veterans to rest. Much like South Africa, Brazil are fortunate with the draw. The open with Egypt who is not push over, but should not give the footballing giants too much of a challenge. They then face the US, which have a reputation of playing Brazil somewhat tough, but not sure that will mean a full 3 points for the US. Therefore when Brazil face Italy in the last game it should be an exhibition for 1st place.

Egypt - One of the most consistent performers in Africa. They are always the one nation that always does well in the African Cup...but for some reason cannot carry this success beyond. This tournament will, unfortunately, be more of the same. They are drawn into the "group of death." As well as having to open against Brazil. The sledding gets no easier in game 2 when they face the Italians. The last match against the US might be for the honor. One player that is to be watched is Zidan for Egypt, he has elevated his game plying his trade in the Bundesliga. Unfortunately I do not think they have enough to get more than a 3rd place in this group.

Italy - I think they Azzurri are another team that has much to prove and show. They are doing alright with regards to qualifying, but have not shone on the world stage when facing the big nations - see their 2-0 lose to Brazil in London. Lippi will want to show on this stage that the Italians are ready to make a serious challenge to hold on to their title next year. I do think this tournament will be a good show case for players such as Rossi, and you know he will be worked up for their opening game against his nation of birth. Again, the last match against Brazil will be an exhibition, however Italy will not want to lay an egg again as they did when these nations last met in London.

United States - The US is the last nation that I think have a lot to prove. They are currently struggling, if you can call being in second place, in their qualifiers. Their recent games have not been inspirational to say the least, having to come from behind twice against Honduras (once to draw and once to win) and got completely outplayed by Costa Rica. The one saving grace is that Mexico is completely imploding and is in real danger of not qualifying. However, Bradley will want to show that his team can compete against the big nations. I am not sure I think they will emerge from this group, but Bradley must show they can compete. The US must look to get a 2 points from the first 2 games, try to draw with both Brazil and Italy, and collect the full 3 points against the African champions. If they at least play well against in the game 1 and 2, and win game 3 that will be considered a success. I am not sure that Bradley's team have it in them this summer.

Group B - Brazil, Italy, Egypt, US

Brazil will defeat South Africa: 4-1
Spain will defeat Italy: 1-1 (3-1 pks)

Brazil will defeat Spain: 2-1 for the title
Italy will defeat South Africa: 3-0 for third place

Friday, June 12, 2009

Real Madrid....the bottumless pit of money


So Real Madrid goes out and signs Kaka for 56m pounds and then turns around and signs Ronaldo for 80m pounds...um so much for a global economic down turn. The Galaticos are back at it looking to rebuild the start studded team similar to the one that had the likes of Ronaldo (the now fat Brazilian one), Beckham, Zidane, Carlos, Figo....to name a few. Those teams were able to win silverware, the Zidane team being the last to capture the Champions League. Clearly watching hated rival Barcelona win 2 Champions Leagues since then as well as crashing out this season has made Real Madrid tact back to their strategy of collecting the world's most expensive football players and not thinking about the cost or if it will work.

However, this crazy move might be just what this team needed. With Robben on one wing and Ronaldo on the other, they can slot Kaka in the middle, with Raul/Van Nistelrooy up front. Higuain can be the offensive joker off the bench and a rotation starter on the wings or up front. Diarra and Gago will be looked to as the holding duo sitting behind this offensive formation. Ronaldo and Kaka are also versital enough to play different formations/positions.

The danger is that both players are used to having teams built around their talents. How will they handle having to be on the pitch and sharing the ball? It will be an interesting experience to watch...if they don't go deep in the Champions League...it could get ugly in Madrid

Saturday, June 06, 2009

D-Day remembered

This blog has always been about footie and the lighter side of life. But today I want to call attention to D-Day and the sacrifice made by that generation. In our current lives it has become to easy to forget all the hardship and sacrifices suffered by those that fought during WWII as well as WWI, Korea, Vietnam and the countless other smaller regional conflicts during the Cold War and beyond. However on days such as these we should pause and reflect on what past generations have given to allow us to have the freedom of rambling on blogs, Tweeting, using facebook, having a cup of coffee, arguing politics and just enjoying all the opportunities of living in a free society.

Merci

Friday, June 05, 2009

Liverpool lose more than PL title

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/8084182.stm

Ouch, losing over 40m pounds....that cannot be good for business. So Rafa, who always complains of not having funds to acquire players must have had money, or were Hicks and Gillett just buying lots of fish and chips? What I love about this story is a team who has a manager who always cries poor yet the business side is hemorrhaging money. This might put Liverpool in a very difficult situation, will they have to sell some of their stars? Will the new stadium be put on indefinite hold? Then again I really have no sympathy for Liverpool, the owners leveraged themselves to purchase the club, what was basically an move to boost their massive egos. Neither man really had any sense of the business of footie, and let's face it, Hicks has questionable acumen when it comes to the business of sports (anyone see how the Texas Rangers are run?).

This massive business loss is just another example of clubs that are run by owners who only see the team as a play thing rather than a business (look at Chelsea's books...they constantly operate at financial losses). I would not be surprised if this time next year we are talking about Manchester City operating at huge losses as well....oh well. I guess if you have the money to burn, good for you.

I wonder if Rafa is already teeing up his whining machine - "I have no funds..."

Oooops

The game against Turkey was in Lyon not Marseille, my fault. Thanks to Philip for correcting me!

Les Bleus end on a high note

Les Bleus come out with a 1-0 victory and from the reports they were the dominant team. The crowd was a bit of a disappointment, but what do you expect from a Marseille's crowd! They actually had to suspend the match due to missiles raining down on the pitch.

It will be interesting to hear the reactions.

Goal from Benzema on penalty.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Les Bleus to end season...with some Turkey.

Tomorrow France will face Turkey in the last international game before the summer break. As I have made clear in the past, I think that international friendlies are vital for national teams as well as the game in general. However, I might argue that these internationals are a monumental waste. It is the end of a long domestic season. Teams that are not in qualifying or playing a tournament (confed cup), are really not motivated. Are you going to tell me that players like Henry and Ribery are not already thinking about sitting on the beach, resting after what was a long and demanding season?

Here is the starting line up -

Lloris - Sagna, Boumsong, Mexès, Abidal - Toulalan, L. Diarra - Benzema, Gourcuff, Malouda - Anelka.

I think Domenech should have looked at some alternate and younger talent - Feghouli, Rami, Hourau, Savidan (ok not younger but worth another look), Mavuba, Matuidi or Menez to name a few. He does need to figure out the central defense pairing, trying the Sevilla teammates against Nigeria, and by their own admission it was not smooth sailing. For Turkey he will try an old Auxerre pairing of Boumsomg and Mexes....the only reason this might work is that they played together at Auxerre otherwise the donkey Boumsong really should never see the pitch ever again...sigh.

Up front, not sure why roll out Anelka, he has nothing to prove. Why not try Gignac and rather than Benzema maybe roll out Remy on the wing, see how he works with offense.

These games really do not show much, players are tired and most likely mentally checked out. So try out players that have not had a real taste of Les Bleus, that experience should naturally raise their motivation and allow Domenech to see what they can bring to the team. Alas, once again Domenech in his own way will waste another opportunity.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Les Bleus end season with a wimper

I completely forgot, but Les Bleus had a friendly yesterday against Nigeria and proceeded to go down to defeat 1-0. Also, it would appear that there were many tired players and players ready for a break on the pitch. Since I was not able to watch the match (sounds like that was for the best) it would appear that the same problems that haunt Les Bleus continue - shaky central defense, no rhythm at midfield and shaky goalkeeping. Domenech has a very short time to rectify these issues. Then again he has had a year of borrowed time, so no sympathy for him wasting that time...alas.
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